|Johnny "Football" Manziel was terrific once again for Texas A&M as they held off Louisiana Tech. (US Presswire)|
SHREVEPORT, La. -- Johnny Football would not be a budding legend among the Aggie faithful if it didn't make things interesting. And trying. And nervewracking.
And, no doubt, fun.
Racing out to a 27 point lead midway through the 2nd quarter against Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M did Texas A&M things and blew a big lead. The difference from this year's team and last however -- besides those SEC patches -- lies behind the No. 2 of Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman quarterback dazzled, danced and delivered a 59-57 win while breaking his own SEC record for total yardage in a crazy shootout at Independence Stadium.
Tech inched back into the game with back-to-back touchdowns to cut the lead to 46-38 in the 4th quarter. Penalties, a common theme on the night, backed the A&M offense deep into their own territory where Manziel felt pressure and tossed a pick-six to Shakeil Lucas while trying to avoid a safety and suddenly the lead was down to two.
Instead of folding, like they may have before, the Aggies stayed resilient and marched 10 plays in an 82-yard scoring drive that saw Manziel stay in the pocket and fire a strike just as receiver Thomas Johnson came out of his break. The defense forced the Bulldogs to punt and Ryan Allen booted a 71-yarder to back A&M up to their 1-yard line while clinging to the lead.
No problem for Johnny Football.
Manziel dropped back to within feet of the back line and threw a strike to Mike Evans to get the Aggies out of their own end zone. Six plays later the quarterback took off for the end zone, picking up 72 yards of his eventual 576 yards.
Louisiana Tech came into Saturday night's make up game against Texas A&M primed to be a BCS buster. They left busted, bruised and beaten by an SEC squad but not broken as they made it close late, pulling to within two after Colby Cameron hit Ray Holley over the middle for touchdown with 38 seconds left in the game. It wasn't enough as the two-point conversion sailed out of bounds on a fade but it gave both teams reason to smile after a hectic final few minutes.
"We're doing what it takes to win games and not lose games," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "We did a lot of things that really can't be explained at the end of the game."
It was the Bulldogs first regular season defeat in over a calendar year and in the process, made a suddenly surging Aggies team, winners of five straight, look like upset-minded threats in their first year in a new league by beating an explosive ranked team away from home. A&M scored on all seven of their 1st half drives and averaged 7.9 yards per play on a night full of fun for both sides.
"As many positives as there were in that situation, there were just as many negatives," Sumlin added. "You can't have a game with that many yards and that many points without a lot of big plays in all phases."
Last week, when turnovers nearly cost Texas A&M a road win at Ole Miss, Manziel and company still rolled up 481 yards. It's not a stretch to label the young playmaking quarterback one of the top offensive threats in the SEC this season and, while the defenses he's faced so far are not close to the caliber of LSU (whom they'll play next week) or Alabama, there's enough talent on the Aggies to give teams fits no matter who it is with a strong offensive line, speedsters on the outside and a running game with options like Christine Michael, Ben Malena and freshman Trey Williams.
At SEC Media Days before the season, the common refrain was that A&M would struggle to adapt to new coach Kevin Sumlin's offense and break in a new quarterback. As the Aggies reach the halfway point of the season, that script has been flipped thanks in large part to Manziel's play, who became the first player in league history to record two games of over 500 yards of total offense. That takes pressure off a defense which has looked shaky so far in 2012 and were a good reason why there were 116 combined points.
For Louisiana Tech, their BCS hopes likely died just as soon as Hurricane Isaac's winds started lashing the Gulf Coast in early September. That forced the season opener between the two teams to be moved back several weeks. Coming off a conference title and one of the best seasons in school history, hopes were high of pulling off an upset of A&M as they got their legs underneath them with a new coaching staff on the road. Five games under their belt however, there wasn't much coach Sonny Dykes could do but watch as A&M raced out to a big lead and never looked back.
The Bulldogs made it more competitive after halftime but it was all too little, too late. Quarterback Colby Cameron finished 44 of 58 for 450 yards and five touchdowns despite blustery conditions at Independence Stadium. Between him, freshman tailback Kenneth Dixon (111 yards, two scores) and receiver Quinton Patton (21 catches, four touchdowns, 233 yards), Tech will likely remain the favorite in the WAC and the 2nd half film will do nothing to stop Dykes' name from being floated for bigger jobs in the offseason.
Now the BCS buster hopes fall upon the shoulders of an undefeated Ohio or, more likely, Boise State. The Bobcats survived a 14 point rally in the 4th quarter against Akron to move to 7-0 and only the craziness of the MAC preventing an undefeated season. Even if they were to remain unblemished when the calendar turns to December, a tricky conference championship game awaits at Ford Field. A win at Penn State in the season opener is looking better by the week but it will likely be the only notable line on Ohio's resume at the end of the season, possibly dooming them to wind up like Tulane in 1998 -- undefeated and playing before New Year's.
The Broncos, no stranger to taking up the cause of the little guy, remain the best the hope at the non-AQ conferences getting a bigger share of the BCS money this season. They would need to win the Mountain West in their final year in the league and finish in the top 12 or be in the top 16 and ranked ahead of an AQ champion -- possible given the weakness of the Big Ten or ACC champion. Boise State's schedule is manageable the rest of the way as their opponents are a combined 14-25 on the season and only a road trip to always pesky Nevada at the end of the year looming.
With the Bulldogs busted, it may now be up to the Broncos.
Texas A&M doesn't have to worry about such things as they enjoy life with SEC patches on their uniforms. Their concerns will turn to the huge number of penalties committed (19 for 165 yards) and a lack of urgency in the 2nd half. Little mistakes may not cost them in an out of conference game but things can change quickly from week-to-week in the SEC.
But they have Johnny Football and for some games, that may be just enough.
"Just knowing he can always bust a game open at any time, it's always awesome," A&M offensive lineman Patrick Lewis said.